Malaria remains an internationally leading cause of ill health and poverty. There is no efficacious vaccine available, and recent progress in malaria control is jeopardized by drug resistance, failing insecticides, and inadequate health infrastructures in affected areas. New vaccines designed to protect residents in malaria-endemic areas would be an extremely costeffective tool to improve this situation.
We propose a 5-year project with the objective of providing malaria vaccines designed specifically for Africa; a high international priority. Our project is based on innovative strategies and understudied antigens, and is largely built on evidence obtained by the applicants that has already led to a pioneering vaccine against placental malaria, which is currently in clinical trials in Africa. The applicants and their institutions have strong track records in malaria research and research-based education.
The project design is based on our decades-long experience with collaborative research and capacity building in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa. It involves novel biotechnologies that will be transferred to the partner in Ghana as an importanet element. The project includes a funded postdoc position for a young Ghanaian scientist who received her PhD-training in our previous collaboration. It furthermore incorporates two funded PhD positions in Ghana.
This way, the project is fully aligned with the strategy recently adopted by University of Ghana to increase the competitiveness of the University in malaria research and education.
It furthermore underpins the engagement of participating University of Copenhagen scientists in the ongoing institutional research capacity strengthening at University of Ghana as part of the Building Stronger Universities initiative.
At the end of the project, we expect to have forwarded several novel malaria vaccine candidates to clinical trial stage. In the process, we will have markedly strengthened the capacity for international level malaria research at University of Ghana, and initiated new South-South collaborations.
The project has three main objectives:
Objective 1 will be pursued by the two project PhD students. Jennifer Suurbaar will focus on the development of ICAM-1/EPCR-binding PfEMP1 as vaccine candidate as described in the project application. Nsoh Anabire will focus on PfEMP1 proteins that can bind IgM, as also described in the project application.
Development of specific programs for this research was initiated in 2018 and detailed programs are expected to be ready in time for implementation of this research by mid-2019 (as obligatory course work is completed).
Objective 2 will be pursued by the project post-doc Frederica Partey, and will focus on the identification of at least one vaccine candidate antigen that efficiently induces antibodies specific for PfRh5 and/or associated antigens and capable of neutralizing merozoite invasion. Laboratory work towards that goal was initiated by Frederica Partey at University of Ghana in 2018.
Objective 3 is contingent on the succes of the first two objectives. Progress of those is on-track as outlined above.